Hotel Rwanda

on December 22, 2004 by Susan Green
The wrenching "Hotel Rwanda" is an effective example of social conscience on the screen. This fact-based saga co-written and directed by Terry George depicts a horrific episode of ethnic cleansing in the mid-1990s that might have been prevented. When Hutu militants massacred almost a million Tutsis during a 100-day period of bloodletting, the media called it "tribal warfare" and the world looked the other way. Even the United Nations was shamefully slow to act.

Don Cheadle gives a magnificent performance as real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina, the modest Hutu manager of a posh Kigali hotel. He has always bribed local merchants and army officers to keep the Belgian-owned establishment running smoothly--an arrangement that breaks down when armed bands of extremists start slaughtering fellow Rwandan citizens they call "cockroaches." Paul's wife Tatiana (the lovely Sophie Okonedo of "Dirty Pretty Things" fame) and many of their neighbors are Tutsis, so the danger becomes harrowingly personal. Then again, this is a story that encompasses all humankind in its definition of family. More than one thousand frightened people take refuge in the hotel, giving the initially reluctant Paul a task akin to that of Oskar Schindler.

The specter of passive racism is also explored. Foreign governments organize an evacuation of tourists and expatriates, most of them white; Africans are left behind to face the escalating violence. An American TV cameraman (Joaquin Phoenix) is forced to abandon his Tutsi girlfriend. The UN, which has decided not to intervene, provides only a handful of peacekeepers forbidden to use their weapons except for self-defense. One of them, a Canadian colonel (Nick Nolte), does his best to help Paul protect the refugees but the situation continues to deteriorate. Aided by Robert Fraisse's breathless cinematography, George ("In the Name of the Father") captures the suspense that comes with constantly spiraling terror. Starring Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte and Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by Terry George. Written by Keir Pearson and Terry George. Produced by A. Kitman Ho and Terry George. A United Artists release. Not yet rated. Historical drama. Running time: 121 min

Tags: Starring Don Cheadle, Sophie Okonedo, Nick Nolte, Joaquin Phoenix. Directed by Terry George. Written by Keir Pearson, Terry George, Produced by A. Kitman Ho, United Artists, Historical drama

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